21 August 2012




BENSON: Penny Wong, good morning.

WONG: Good morning Marius. It’s good to be with you again.

BENSON: Yes, thanks indeed for joining us here on Newsradio. ‘How will you pay for it all?’ is the question from the Opposition. You’re promising no new taxes, you have these very big commitments, education and disability insurance at the top of the list…

WONG: Marius, we’ve got a proven track record as a Government of delivering a range of big reforms within very strict fiscal targets. We gave the biggest increase to the age pension in a hundred years, we put in place a paid parental leave scheme. In a very tight Budget we funded the first start-up costs of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Now, we’ll take the same approach in our response to Gonski and in putting together the longer-term plans for the NDIS.

BENSON: On the Gonski Report, on funding, will there be more funding from this Government for schools – for all schools – before the next election?

WONG: The Government’s made clear that we haven’t yet responded to the Gonski Review and we will be responding. We’ve also made clear our approach in terms of schools funding, that we wouldn’t be in a position where schools would be losing funding – that schools would continue to see increases in funding. But we’re working through our response.

BENSON: But can you say definitely more money over the next year or not?
WONG: We are working through our response and we’ve made clear that the whole premise of the Gonski Review is first to ensure we increase the performance of our schools. Let’s remember we’ve got four out of five of the top performing school systems in our region. We need to get ourselves on that list. We need to lift student results and the Review is how we approach that. So I think it’s very important to understand the purpose of this is to lift the performance of schools and the performance of our students.

BENSON: Okay, and I think there should be happy anniversary wishes to the Government, because today is the second anniversary of the election, if that’s the word, of the minority Labor Government and you’ve had a small present in the form of a Newspoll which shows, for the second fortnight in a row, things are on the up-and-up for the Government. Do you sense any change in public mood?

WONG: I think people certainly have started to see that Mr Abbott’s hysterical scare campaign on carbon is simply unfounded, and the sorts of statements that were made about whole industries being shut down and towns being wiped off the map has been shown to be untrue. But I think you’ve asked me over a number of years now, Marius, and I always give you the answer that I certainly don’t do my job from fortnight to fortnight worrying about the polls, and you wouldn’t want me to.

BENSON: But politicians, all politicians, worry about the polls, otherwise the Labor Party, in your case, wouldn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on them.

WONG: I think the important thing is to make sure you do your job properly and to focus on doing your job properly rather than focus on the polling. And I’m more interested, and I know the Prime Minister is more interested, in working out how it is we lift the performance of Australian schools and get a better result for our students. How do you roll out a Disability Insurance Scheme for Australians with disabilities? These are much more important issues and probably, I think, far more relevant to the people that are listening to your program.

BENSON: Why are Australians, the people listening to this program and others, so unimpressed with the job Julia Gillard is doing? She’s got a satisfaction rating of minus thirty-three.

WONG: I don’t think anyone looking at politics over the last couple of years would say it’s been anything other than brutal, and there have been extraordinary attacks on the Prime Minister and there have been some very highly contested reforms. I’ve been in politics now ten years in the Federal Parliament and I’ve seen some pretty big fights, but I think the bitterness and the aggression of this recent period in political history – the aggression of this Opposition Leader – is obviously going to make politics in general a pretty tough place to be.

BENSON: Just quickly, Mark Coulton the Nationals MP who’s opposed to gay marriage says the Labor Party isn’t serious about it. Will there be a vote on gay marriage in this session of Parliament between now and Christmas?

WONG: It’s pretty interesting that a Coalition person who opposes same sex marriage and marriage equality is saying that we’re not serious about it. The Party that is refusing to allow a free vote – despite the fact that they say they’re into the freedom of the individual – the Party that is refusing to allow a free vote is a Party that is led by Tony Abbott.

BENSON: Will there be a vote this session?

WONG: Ultimately that is a matter for the Parliament and how many people choose to speak and when the vote is brought on. I can tell you that, in the Senate, the way we usually approach these things is to make sure people do get a proper chance to speak. There are obviously different views on the issue of marriage equality and we will have a proper debate on this issue, and when that proper debate is finished that the matter will be voted on.